6 Things your Clients Need to do to Protect their Aging Parents

adult child

By Matthew Paine

For many advisors, a client meeting about multigenerational issues has been focused on transferring wealth to the next generation or helping them begin saving for their futures. Now, many of your clients face the opposite generational issue: how to help their parents get their finances in order to ensure independence and security in their retirement years.

If you haven’t gone down this road yourself (yet), you should talk to the many of us who have. You think your parents have made all the right moves from a planning perspective, saving diligently and investing wisely to be on track for a successful retirement. But no amount of traditional financial planning prepares you for the gut-wrenching issues of aging parents with debilitating illnesses like dementia or cancer.

It’s not easy, and a planning session means a lot more than drafting a trust or writing a check to cover unplanned expenses. For me, it has included a host of things I never thought I’d have to deal with like educating my parents on “elder scams,” unravelling a lifetime of complex finances, and researching care options. And every step of the way, you can’t help but think: If only we’d planned for all of this a decade ago, it would be so much easier on all of us.

That’s precisely why many of your clients need your help, and it’s why it’s important to start the conversation now—before it’s too late.

How can you help your clients plan for the inevitable? The first step is to help your clients initiate what can be a difficult conversation with their parents. Family dynamics, role reversals, and denial are just a few of the reasons families avoid talking about next steps when it comes to aging. But it’s inevitable that older parents will need help from their children.

Give them a way to ease into the conversation with their parents by doing something simple: let them blame you. “My advisor asked me to gather some information, and I need your help.” Then give your clients the tools they need to be successful. Arm them with clear talking points and a list of documents and other information to ask for, including:

1. What health insurance coverage do your parents have? Is it covering their current expenses?

As healthcare costs rise, Medicaid and Medicare often aren’t sufficient, which means out-of-pocket expenses rise. It’s important to evaluate insurance coverage now, as well as to project into the future as health declines.

Keep in mind that Medicaid and Medicare plans change every year, as do your parents’ healthcare costs. Be sure they understand the differences between the plans and are choosing the most appropriate option—including prescription coverage.

2. What is your parents’ cash flow today? Are their expenses aligned with their savings?

Many people (of all ages) don’t track monthly expenses. For retirees on a fixed income, aligning cash flow with resources is particularly important to ensure they don’t outlive their assets. If your parents’ assets are dwindling too quickly, it’s time to take action now to avoid worse problems down the road. It’s important to look at volatility in their investments, their risk tolerance levels, and changes in their tax levels to be sure they have enough assets to cover what may be a longer life than they’ve planned.

3. Have you talked about alternative housing if your parents can’t stay in their own home?

It’s seems to be a mantra with aging seniors: “I’m never leaving my home! I’m going to live here until the day I die!” That might be great in theory, but it often becomes an impossibility when poor health changes the rules.

Talk about what situation would warrant a move and, if it’s needed, where your parents would prefer to live. Independent and assisted living facilities are common, but many have multi-year waiting lists. If “aging in place” is a realistic option, look at the costs of in-home care versus a similar level of care in a facility. Lastly, discuss a plan to be sure neither parent becomes a “prisoner in their own home,” unable to live a healthy, happy life because they can’t leave their ill spouse unattended.

4. Are both parents aware of and involved in financial decision-making? Are there “checks and balances”?

In many relationships, one spouse is responsible for most or all of the financial decision-making. Since no one knows whose health will fail or who will die first, it’s vital that both parents understand how much money they have, where it’s going, and how their investments are being managed. See if you can get them to agree to hand over the task of financial management if one or both of them begin to show signs of dementia or failing health.

5. May I see copies of your wills, trusts, and life insurance statements?

For many seniors, the administration of planning documents is overwhelming. They may have a will, but it may be outdated or incomplete. If they have a trust, is it an irrevocable trust? A charitable trust?

If they have life insurance, do they really need it at this point, or are they paying expensive premiums for a policy that simply doesn’t make sense? Options such as selling life insurance policies in the secondary market have uncovered assets many seniors never knew existed. Details matter, and understanding what’s in place today can help you advise them about making important changes if they’re needed.

6. Where do your parents store all their documents, accounts, and important papers?

It used to be simple: most people had a nicely organized file drawer of important documents, locked with a key. Today, important documents can be anywhere on the Internet, which means documents and even complete accounts risk being lost forever unless they’re carefully tracked and organized. Ask where they keep hard copy documents, as well as for a list of all bank, investment, and other accounts, including user names and passwords.

Set up a shared folder in Google Docs or Dropbox to be sure you always have the most current versions of their important documents. Many banks and investment firms offer “online safe deposit boxes” that make online storage even more secure. Whatever method you choose, help them create an “online file cabinet”—and get the key!

As an advisor, multi-generational planning is nothing new. If you’re doing it right, you have smart plans in place to wisely and tax-efficiently transfer your clients’ wealth to the next generation. Now is the time to add the flip side of multi-generation planning, by helping your clients plan for the physical, financial, and emotional care of their aging parents.

By tackling these issues before it’s too late, you have an opportunity to not only do the right thing for your clients, but also to strengthen and expand your client relationships, and take the concept of client service to a whole new level.